Style Destination: Ireland

Celtic culture dates back to the founding of the Irish isle in 8000 BC. It has been heavily influenced by invasions from the Vikings, the Normans, and most recently the English and by them, several monarchies. The history and values of this feisty people can be seen in their traditional costumes which denote tribal and economic status. The natural environment and an abundance of sheep has historically lent itself to mostly woolen cloth.

Mantles of wool became popular in the 13th century, with wealth signified by the larger pieces and poverty by a quilted mismatch of scraps. Brats were cloaks that also became popular, economic class signified by the number of colors worn. Slaves were confined to one color, with the wealthier allowed up to four. Kings could wear several. Beneath the brats the Irish wore a simple léine, or bell-shaped tunic, with an inar jacket that was fitted at the waist and pleated out over the hips. It was this outer jacket that was elaborately decorated with embroidery.

Contrary to popular custom, kilts are decidedly Scottish in origin; however, the two countries do share a bond with the plaid prints. The colors and patterns of the plaid indicated the tribe. The tribal laced pants and vests have followed centuries and are often thought about when dressing traditionally Celtic.

Perhaps the two most recognizable icons of Irish garb are the Celtic knot and the color green. The latter was popularized in the 19th century as a fashion trend, but the former dates back to the ancient Roman Empire. Endless knots like the Celtic knot were used widely to express infinite bonds. Many of the styles have been used for centuries by Christian missionaries as examples of God’s infinite Love and Forgiveness. Other patterns were simply basket-weave knots that were sturdy and reliable.

Simplicity of cloth marked the traditional Irish fashion, while intricate embroidery and trimmings were the main decoration. Jewelry was simple or nonexistent, shoes were functional, and dry warmth was a priority.

Here’s a look inspired by customary Celtic fashion. Pillage thrift stores, second hand shops, even antique or farmers’ markets for plaid textiles. Switch up the colors, but keep it “Simple and Solid.” The next time you feel your Irish heritage calling, treat yourself to a little green.

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  • For the top, pick a solid colored vest or sleeveless blouse with embroidery or lace. It should be fitted, but not skin-tight. The fabric can be thin and flowy, or stiff and warm based on your weather.

  • Next, find a white or beige tunic that has a fitted torso, but puffy shoulders and bell sleeves. No hippy bells, just old-world curves. This fabric should be a light cotton.

  • Your pants should be a solid color, preferably black or dark brown. If you’d rather a skirt, keep it solid.

  • Your feet should continue the “laced” theme and be reminiscent of the Irish Dancer’s shoes.

  • Accessorize with simple gold studs or very small hoops, if you need earrings.

  • For a purse, take a dive into the plaid satchel or over-the-shoulder style.

  • Irish women are known for delicate, pale skin. Keep makeup natural, adding true-red lips.

The hair is most iconic of an Irish maid, and if you don’t have red locks, fret not. A good curl will do fine, left wild with a simple knotted headband atop.